MELBOURNE (AFP) – They may not model their own underwear just yet, but a dizzying array of fake “Galacticos” are strutting their stuff at the Asian Cup – from Ronaldos to a Beckham prowling the touchline in a shellsuit.
Pele, Zico and Zinedine Zidane, not players you would immediately associate with Asian football, were once the far-fetched nicknames of choice. But times change.
This year’s tournament in Australia features the “Iraqi Cristiano Ronaldo”, “Asia’s Gareth Bale” and a “Chinese Sergio Ramos”, mirroring the surge in popularity of European champions Real Madrid. And a flash sobriquet can help as players look to put themselves in the shop window.
Iraqi wide man Ahmed Yasin, who plays his football in Sweden, possesses the pin-up looks of Ronaldo – if not quite his jaw-dropping ability or “CR7” line of bun-hugging briefs – while team-mate Ali Adnan has been likened to Bale for his marauding charges up the left wing.
It appears that few teams left home without a Ronaldo for the Asian Cup, with bulldozing Bahrain striker Jaycee Okwunwanne perhaps coming closest so far, in terms of enthusiasm at least.
South Korea forward Son Heung-Min is called “Sonaldo” by his Bayer Leverkusen team mates, and the jet-heeled superstar with the floppy Beatles haircut and romantic ties with K-pop beauties is already a huge celebrity in his home country. However, no Asian Cup would be complete without Uzbekistan great Mirdjalal Kasimov, rather excitedly dubbed “Uz-Becks” in his heyday for his sublime free kicks.
Now Uzbekistan’s head coach, Kasimov does not have a pop star wife or own a collection of dodgy sarongs, and looks-wise he and Beckham are worlds apart.
And unlike Beckham the 44-year-old Kasimov does not trouble the barbers of Tashkent for more than a sensible short back and sides — no shampoo required.
Uzbekistan’s twice player of the year Server Djeparov needs no fashion tips from Beckham, turning up to awards ceremonies rocking crushed velvet tuxedos – although his “mullet” haircut that invited unfortunate comparisons to former England star Chris Waddle has since morphed into a ponytail.
While today’s wannabe superstars largely eschew the nicknames of yesteryear, comfortingly there are still a few nods to the past, with Qatar claiming to have a Maradona up their sleeve in the shape of Khalfan Ibrahim.
Iran are currently the Asian beach football champions, but they have no time to lounge around on sunbeds at the Asian Cup, or indulge in fanciful nicknames.
Charlton Athletic forward Reza Ghoochannejhad is known as “Gucci” for short, presumably not for an addiction to high-end shopping, while Karim Ansarifard is known, conservatively, as the “Iranian Ali Daei”, out of deference for the country’s record goal-scorer.
South Korea have a Steven Gerrard in midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng, while their rivals across the border boast the “People’s Wayne Rooney” – except Jong Tae-Se, who plays in the K-League, is missing from the North Korean squad.